Some Young Children Get
Too Much Fluoride In Caring for Teeth

Tara Parker-Pope

December 21, 1998

THE FLUORIDATION of public water systems in the U.S. since 1945 is often hailed as one of the great public-health advances of the century. Today, many children reach adulthood without a single cavity. [NOTE: Almost every mass-media article starts out with this same mantra..]

But now health researchers are questioning whether Americans, particularly children, may have too much fluoride in their diets. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control just completed a study, to be published early next year, showing that children are exposed to fluoride from a variety of sources, including drinking water, toothpaste, fluoride supplements and even grape juice. "There probably is excess exposure," says Kit Shaddix, fluoride team leader at the CDC's division of oral health.

For years, groups [including some of top scientists in the world] have opposed the fluoridation of public water systems, blaming fluoride for ailments ranging from allergies to cancer. But the CDC is quick to say excess fluoride causes problems that are cosmetic, with no other adverse health consequences. [Wow, another 100% safe for everybody claim. If it's so safe, why worry how much our kids get??] Fluoride does occur naturally in many foods, including tea.

The CDC says the biggest problem is an apparent increase in dental fluorosis, an unsightly and permanent discoloration of teeth. [What CDC calls cosmetic] Fluorosis is caused by overexposure to fluoride at a time when teeth are just forming, often leaving them stained brown with white spots. Only children under six years old are vulnerable. A recent national study found that 22% of U.S. children have some form of fluorosis. Bleaching can't fix it. Dentists often use expensive veneers to cover the teeth.

Fluoride toothpastes are among the culprits. Two years ago, Colgate-Palmolive paid a family in Britain a "goodwill" payment of £1,000 (about $1,600) after a child developed a severe case of fluorosis. [Remember, the CDC says this is a cosmetic defect]

Terry Loftus, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble, which makes Crest, says "Toothpaste with fluoride is considered an over-the- counter drug." Parents should supervise their children under six" when using it.

ANOTHER PROBLEM, says the CDC, is that some doctors [dentists??] are overprescribing fluoride supplements for children.

"A whole lot less need supplements, " says Dr. Shaddix. "Pediatricians and dentists routinely give out fluoride supplements in fluoridated areas. But you put those two together, and you could get a big problem with fluorosis."

The CDC also wants doctors and dentists to get a better idea of a child's eating and drinking habits before prescribing supplements. Some foods such as grape juice and tea-contain more fluoride than fluoridated water. Some grape juice has fluoride content of as much as 1.7 parts per million, compared with one part per million in fluoridated water. Teas can have between two and 10 parts per million of fluoride. Colas, soft drinks and juices that are bottled in areas where the public water supply is fluoridated also contain fluoride.

The CDC is calling for new labeling rules requiring manufacturers to list a product's fluoride content.

If parents fear their child isn't getting enough fluoride, they should talk with their doctor about other possible sources, such as juice and colas, before resorting to supplements.


© Wall Street Journal